William & Mary

W&M alumnus shares communications insights with campus community

  • Welcome back:
    Welcome back:  Brent Colburn (center) visits with Global Research Institute students and staff.  Photo by Ana Suarez, Global Research Institute
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Once a William & Mary student, Brent Colburn '98, MPP '00, returned to campus recently as a teacher.

Now a top communications strategist, Colburn met with students, faculty and communications staffers from around William & Mary.

"It is always so inspiring to be back on campus," said Colburn of the visit. "The caliber of the students, the insight of their questions and the sense of community you feel at William & Mary are truly incredible. It is a special thing to be a part of, and I'm looking forward to working for some of these young women and men someday.”

Colburn has spent his nearly 20-year career working for mission-driven organizations including Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, the Defense Department, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and now Princeton where he serves as the vice president for communications and public affairs.

"Brent has a wealth of insights about communication that come from his experience working in the political arena, as a public servant and now at a top university," said Henry Broaddus, vice president for strategic initiatives and public affairs at W&M. "Having Brent back to campus to compare notes with us was invaluable."

Colburn also joined the latest edition of the Global Research Institute’s Insider Insights — a speaker series that brings top global practitioners and students together over an informal lunch. There, Colburn provided advice for a different audience: soon-to-be young alumni interested starting mission-driven communications careers. Sharing lessons from troughout his career, Colburn repeatedly emphasized the personal importance of working for organizations driven by a broader mission.

As he entered government service with the first Obama administration, his commitment to initiatives bigger to himself remained even as the scale changed. Reflecting on the transition, he said that government officials have a greater obligation to share information with the press than campaign officials do. Working for the American taxpayers is a far cry from working just for a candidate, he added, He also urged students to consider their audience every time they communicate.

Colburn continued to inspire during a public talk at the Reves Center that drew a lively crowd of students, W&M staff and his former professors. Offering five lessons for mission-driven communications (and two bonuses) through his talk and ensuing Q&A, Colburn described the challenges messaging professionals face with the rise of social media and how they might navigate them. In particular, he emphasized the importance of organizations embracing both owned media and traditional bought and earned media sources.

According to Global Research Institute Co-Director Mike Tierney, “The range of opportunities for students and the broader William & Mary community to engage with Brent was incredible. William & Mary does an excellent job teaching students about the policy and the policymaking process – the chance to learn directly from a practitioner who has worked on campaigns, in the Pentagon and more is a unique complement to their classroom education.”